New Age

New Age
White cloud tops below with Earth's azure atmosphere blending into outer space, where a thin crescent moon hovers against the darkness
New Age spirituality often makes references to mythological representations of the Earth, Moon, and outer space; the term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[1]

The New Age movement is a Western spiritual movement that developed in the second half of the 20th century. Its central precepts have been described as "drawing on both Eastern and Western spiritual and metaphysical traditions and then infusing them with influences from self-help and motivational psychology, holistic health, parapsychology, consciousness research and quantum physics".[2] It aims to create "a spirituality without borders or confining dogmas" that is inclusive and pluralistic.[3] Another of its primary traits is holding to "a holistic worldview,"[4] thereby emphasising that the Mind, Body and Spirit are interrelated[1] and that there is a form of Monism and unity throughout the universe.[5] It further attempts to create "a worldview that includes both science and spirituality"[6] and thereby embraces a number of forms of science and pseudoscience.

According to author Nevill Drury, the origins of the movement can be found in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly through the works of the esotericists Emanuel Swedenborg, Franz Mesmer, Helena Blavatsky and George Gurdjieff, who laid some of the basic philosophical principles that would later influence the movement. It would gain further momentum in the 1960s, taking influence from metaphysics, self-help psychology, and the various Indian gurus who visited the West during that decade.[7]

The New Age movement includes elements of older spiritual and religious traditions ranging from atheism and monotheism through classical pantheism, naturalistic pantheism, pandeism and panentheism to polytheism combined with science and Gaia philosophy; particularly archaeoastronomy, astronomy, ecology, environmentalism, the Gaia hypothesis, psychology, and physics. New Age practices and philosophies sometimes draw inspiration from major world religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism; with strong influences from East Asian religions, Gnosticism, Neopaganism, New Thought, Spiritualism, Theosophy, Universalism, and Western esotericism.[8] The term New Age refers to the coming astrological Age of Aquarius.[1]




The author Nevill Drury claimed there are "four key precursors of the New Age," who had set the way for many of its widely held precepts.[3] The first of these was Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772), a Swedish scientist who after a religious experience devoted himself to Christian mysticism, believing that he could travel to Heaven and Hell and commune with angels, demons and spirits, and who published widely on the subject of his experiences. The second person was Franz Mesmer (1734–1815), who had developed a form of healing using magnets, believing that there was a force known as "animal magnetism" that affected humans. The third figure was the Russian Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891), one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, through which she propagated her religious movement of Theosophy, which itself combined a number of elements from Eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism with Western elements. The fourth figure was George Gurdjieff (c. 1872–1949), who founded the philosophy of the Fourth Way, through which he conveyed a number of spiritual teachings to his disciples. A fifth individual whom Drury identified as an important influence upon the New Age movement was the Indian Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902), an adherent of the philosophy of Vedanta who first brought Hinduism to the West in the late 19th century.[9]

The term New Age was used as early as 1809 by William Blake who described a coming era of spiritual and artistic advancement in his preface to Milton a Poem by stating: "... when the New Age is at leisure to pronounce, all will be set right ..."[10]

Some of the New Age movement's constituent elements appeared initially in the 19th-century metaphysical movements: Spiritualism, Theosophy, and New Thought and also the alternative medicine movements of chiropractics and naturopathy.[1][5] These movements have roots in Transcendentalism, Mesmerism, Swedenborgianism, and various earlier Western esoteric or occult traditions, such as the hermetic arts of astrology, magic, alchemy, and Kabbalah. The term New Age was used in this context in Madame Blavatsky's book The Secret Doctrine, published in 1888.[11]

A weekly journal of Christian liberalism and socialism titled The New Age was published as early as 1894;[12] it was sold to a group of socialist writers headed by Alfred Richard Orage and Holbrook Jackson in 1907. Contributors included H. G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats; the magazine became a forum for politics, literature, and the arts.[13][14] Between 1908 and 1914, it was instrumental in pioneering the British avant-garde from Vorticism to Imagism. Orage met P. D. Ouspensky, a follower of Gurdjieff, in 1914 and began correspondence with Harry Houdini; he became less interested in literature and art with an increased focus on mysticism and other spiritual topics; the magazine was sold in 1921. According to Brown University, The New Age "... helped to shape modernism in literature and the arts from 1907 to 1922."[15]


Stonehenge with trimmed green grass on a partly-sunny day
Stonehenge and other ancient sites are revered by many who practice New Age spirituality.

Popularisation behind these ideas has roots in the work of early 20th century writers such as D. H. Lawrence and William Butler Yeats. In the early- to mid-1900s, American mystic, theologian, and founder of the Association for Research and Enlightenment Edgar Cayce was a seminal influence on what later would be termed the New Age movement; he was known in particular for the practice some refer to as channeling.[16] The psychologist Carl Jung was a proponent of the concept of the Age of Aquarius.[17] In a letter to his friend Peter Baynes, dated 12 August 1940, Jung wrote a passage: "... This year reminds me of the enormous earthquake in 26 B.C. that shook down the great temple of Karnak. It was the prelude to the destruction of all temples, because a new time had begun. 1940 is the year when we approach the meridian of the first star in Aquarius. It is the premonitory earthquake of the New Age ..."[18][19] Former Theosophist Rudolf Steiner and his Anthroposophical Movement are a major influence. Neo-Theosophist Alice Bailey published the book Discipleship in the New Age (1944), which used the term New Age in reference to the transition from the astrological age of Pisces to Aquarius. While claims of racial bias in the writings of Rudolf Steiner and Alice Bailey were made,[20] Bailey was firmly opposed to the Axis powers; she believed that Adolf Hitler was possessed by the Dark Forces,[21] and Steiner emphasized racial equality as a principle central to anthroposophical thought and humanity's progress.[22][23] Any racial elements from these influences have not remained part of the Anthroposophical Society as contemporary adherents of the society have either not adopted or repudiated these beliefs.[24][25] Another early usage of the term, was by the American artist, mystic, and philosopher Walter Russell, who spoke of "... this New Age philosophy of the spiritual re-awakening of man ... Man's purpose in this New Age is to acquire more and more knowledge ..." in his essay "Power Through Knowledge," which was also published in 1944.[26]

Contemporary usage of the term

Wooden barrel house in forest with surrounding footpaths
This barrel house was the first dwelling constructed at the Findhorn Ecovillage.

The subculture that later became known as New Age already existed in the early 1970s, based on and adopting ideas originally present in the counterculture of the 1960s. Two entities founded in 1962: the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and the Findhorn Foundation—an intentional community which continues to operate the Findhorn Ecovillage near Findhorn, Moray, Scotland—played an instrumental role during the early growth period of the New Age movement.[27]

Widespread usage of the term New Age began in the mid-1970s (reflected in the title of monthly periodical New Age Journal) and probably influenced several thousand small metaphysical book- and gift-stores that increasingly defined themselves as "New Age bookstores."[28][29] As a result of the large-scale activities surrounding the Harmonic Convergence in 1987, the American mass-media further popularised the term as a label for the alternative spiritual subculture, including practices such as meditation, channeling, crystal healing, astral projection, psychic experience, holistic health, simple living, and environmentalism; or belief in phenomena such as Earth mysteries, ancient astronauts, extraterrestrial life, unidentified flying objects, crop circles, and reincarnation. Several New Age publications appeared by the late 1980s such as Psychic Guide (later renamed Body, Mind & Spirit), Yoga Journal, New Age Voice, New Age Retailer, and NAPRA ReView by the New Age Publishers and Retailers Alliance.

Several key events occurred, which raised public awareness of the New Age subculture: the production of the musical Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical (1967) with its opening song "Aquarius" and its memorable line "This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius";[30] publication of Linda Goodman's best-selling astrology books Sun Signs (1968) and Love Signs (1978); the release of Shirley MacLaine's book Out on a Limb (1983), later adapted into a television mini-series with the same name (1987); and the "Harmonic Convergence" planetary alignment on August 16 and 17, 1987,[31] organized by José Argüelles at Sedona in the U.S. state of Arizona. The claims of channelers Jane Roberts (Seth Material), Helen Schucman (A Course in Miracles), J. Z. Knight (Ramtha), Neale Donald Walsch (Conversations with God) (note that Walsch denies being a "channeler" and his books make it obvious that he is not one), and Rene Gaudette (The Wonders) contributed to the movement's growth.[32][33] Relevant New Age works include the writings of James Redfield, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Christopher Hills, Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, John Holland, Gary Zukav, Wayne Dyer, and Rhonda Byrne.

While J. Gordon Melton,[34] Wouter Hanegraaff,[35] and Paul Heelas[36] have emphasised personal aspects, Mark Satin,[37] Theodore Roszak,[38] Marilyn Ferguson,[39] and Corinne McLaughlin[40] have described New Age as a values-based sociopolitical movement.


While the New Age lacks any unified belief-system, many spiritual practices and philosophies are common among adherents of the movement—sometimes referred to as New Agers.

Philosophy and Cosmology
Concept Description
Theism General and abstract idea of God, understood in many ways and seen as superseding the need to anthropomorphize deity.
Spiritual beings Many believe that gods, devas, angels, Ascended Masters, elementals, ghosts, faeries, Spirit guides and extraterrestrials can spiritually guide people who open themselves to such guidance.[41]
Afterlife Consciousness persists after death as life in different forms; the afterlife exists for further learning through the form of a spirit, reincarnation and/or near-death experiences.[42] The New Age belief in reincarnation is different than the Buddhist or Hindu concepts in that the New Age religion believes that a soul can be born into a spiritual realm or even on a far-away planet and there is no desire to end this process; there are also beliefs that either all individuals (not just a minority) can choose where they reincarnate, or that God/the universe always chooses the best reincarnation for the person.[43] There may be a belief in hell, but typically not in the traditional Christian sense or Islamic sense of eternal damnation. Universalist views of the afterlife are common.
Age of Aquarius Some astrologers[which?] regard the current time-period as the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, correlated to various changes in the world; and some claim that the early 1960s was the actual beginning of the Age of Aquarius, though this claim is highly contentious. Common claims about the developments associated with the Age of Aquarius include, but are not limited to, human rights, democracy, innovative technology, electricity, computers, and aviation. Esoteric claims are that the Age of Aquarius will see a rise in consciousness.[11]
Eschatology Related to the above; a belief that we are living on the threshold of a great change in human consciousness usually focused on the date December 21, 2012 when a major, usually positive, change is anticipated.[44] See 2012 phenomenon.
Astrology Horoscopes and the Zodiac are used in understanding, interpreting, and organizing information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.[45]
Teleology Life has a purpose; this includes a belief in synchronicity—that coincidences have spiritual meaning and lessons to teach those open to them. Everything is universally connected through God and participates in the same energy.[46] There is a cosmic goal and a belief that all entities are (knowingly or unknowingly) cooperating towards this goal.
Indigo children Children are being born with a more highly developed spiritual power than earlier generations.[47][48]
Interpersonal relationships Opportunities to learn about one's self and relationships are destined to be repeated until they are healthy.[49] Those in the New Age movement accept women's complete equality in all aspects of society including religion and the complete acceptance of one's sexual orientation, whether heterosexual, homosexual (gay or lesbian) or bisexual and gender identity, whether cisgender, transgender, or intersexual as a means of spiritual development.
Intuition An important aspect of perception – offset by a somewhat strict rationalism – noted especially in the works of psychologist Carl Jung.[50]
Optimism Positive thinking supported by affirmations will achieve success in anything;[51] this is based on the concept that Thought Creates. Therefore, as one begins focusing attention and consciousness on the positive, on the "half-filled" glass of water, reality starts shifting and materializing the positive intentions and aspects of life. A certain critical mass of people with a highly spiritual consciousness will bring about a sudden change in the whole population.[52] Humans have a responsibility to take part in positive creative activity and to work to heal ourselves, each other and the planet.[53]
Human Potential Movement The human mind has much greater potential than that ascribed to it[54][55][56] and is even capable of overriding physical reality.[57]
Spiritual healing Humans have potential healing powers, such as therapeutic touch, which can be developed[by whom?] to heal others through touch or at a distance.[58]
Religion and Science
Concept Description
Eclecticism New Age spirituality is characterized by an individual approach to spiritual practices and philosophies, and the rejection of religious doctrine and dogma.[59]
Matriarchy Feminine forms of spirituality, including feminine images of the divine, such as the female Aeon Sophia in Gnosticism, are deprecated by patriarchal religions.[5]
Ancient civilizations Atlantis, Lemuria, Mu, and other lost lands existed.[60] Relics such as the crystal skulls and monuments such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were left behind.
Psychic perception Certain geographic locations emanate psychic energy (sometimes through ley lines) and were considered sacred in pagan religions throughout the world.[61]
Eastern world practices Meditation, Yoga, Tantra, Chinese medicine, Ayurveda, martial arts, T'ai chi ch'uan, Falun Gong, Qigong, Reflexology, Reiki, and other Eastern practices may assist in focusing spirituality.
Diet Food influences both the mind and body; it is generally preferable to practice vegetarianism by eating fresh organic food, which is locally grown and in season;[62][63] fasting may be used.[64]
Mathematics An appeal to the language of nature and mathematics, as evidenced by numerology, Kabbalah,[65] Sacred geometry, and gnosticism to discern the nature of God.
Science Quantum mechanics, parapsychology, and the Gaia hypothesis have been used in quantum mysticism to explain spiritual principles.[66] Authors Deepak Chopra, Fritjof Capra, Fred Alan Wolf, and Gary Zukav have linked quantum mechanics to New Age spirituality, which is presented in the film What the Bleep Do We Know!? (2004); also, in connection with the Law of Attraction, which is related to New Thought and presented in the film The Secret (2006). They have interpreted the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, quantum entanglement, wave function collapse, or the many-worlds interpretation to mean that all objects in the universe are one (monism), that possibility and existence are endless, and that the physical world is only what one believes it to be. In medicine, such practices as therapeutic touch, homeopathy, chiropractic, and naturopathy involve hypotheses and treatments that have not been accepted by the conventional, science-based medical community through the normal course of empirical testing.[67][68]


New Age store along stone street with bicycles parked out front and large crystals behind display windows
New Age shop in St Albans, UK

New Age spirituality has led to a wide array of literature on the subject and an active niche market, with books, music, crafts, and services in alternative medicine available at New Age stores, fairs, and festivals.[69][70]


People who practice New Age spirituality or who embrace its lifestyle are included in the Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) demographic market segment, currently in a growth phase, related to sustainable living, green ecological initiatives, and generally composed of a relatively affluent and well-educated segment.[71][72] The LOHAS market segment in 2006 was estimated at USD$300 billion, approximately 30 percent of the United States consumer market.[73][74] According to The New York Times, a study by the Natural Marketing Institute showed that in 2000, 68 million Americans were included within the LOHAS demographic. The sociologist Paul H. Ray, who coined the term Cultural Creatives in his book The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People Are Changing the World (2000), states, "What you're seeing is a demand for products of equal quality that are also virtuous."[75][76]

The New Age is strongly gendered; sociologist Ciara O'Connor argues that it shows a tension between commodification and women's empowerment.[77]


Three intersecting circles representing economy, society and environment showing how sustainability involves cooperation at the point where they all intersect.
Definitions of sustainability often refer to the "three pillars" of social, environmental, and economic sustainability.[78]

Some New Agers advocate living in a simple and sustainable manner to reduce humanity's impact on the natural resources of Earth; and they shun consumerism.[79][80] The New Age movement has been centered around rebuilding a sense of community to counter social disintegration; this has been attempted through the formation of intentional communities, where individuals come together to live and work in a communal lifestyle.[81]

Holistic health

Practitioners of New Age spirituality may use alternative medicine in addition to or in place of conventional medicine;[70][82] while some conventional physicians have adopted aspects or the complete approach of holistic health.


New Age music is peaceful music of various styles intended to create inspiration, relaxation, and positive feelings while listening. Studies have determined that New Age music can be an effective component of stress management.[83]

The style began in the 1970s with the works of free-form jazz groups recording on the ECM label; such as Oregon, the Paul Winter Consort, and other pre-ambient bands; as well as ambient music performer Brian Eno and classical avant-garde musician Daniel Kobialka. In the early 1970s, it was mostly instrumental with both acoustic and electronic styles. New Age music evolved to include a wide range of styles from electronic space music (like Constance Demby's) using synthesizers and acoustic instrumentals using Native American flutes and drums, singing bowls, and world music sounds to spiritual chanting from other cultures.


Organized religion

Mainstream religious institutions have been largely critical of New Age spirituality. Author Johanna Michaelson published her own experiences with various New Age practices in The Beautiful Side of Evil (1982); after concluding these activities were demonic, she converted to Christianity.[84] Michigan attorney and activist Constance Cumbey offered the first major criticism of the New Age movement from a Christian perspective in The Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow: The New Age Movement and Our Coming Age of Barbarism (1983).[85]

The Roman Catholic Church published A Christian reflection on the New Age in 2003, following a six-year study; the 90-page document criticizes New Age practices such as yoga, meditation, feng shui, and crystal healing.[86][87] According to the Vatican, euphoric states attained through New Age practices should not be confused with prayer or viewed as signs of God's presence.[88] Cardinal Paul Poupard, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said the "New Age is a misleading answer to the oldest hopes of man."[86] Monsignor Michael Fitzgerald, then-president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, stated at the Vatican conference on the document: the "Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age."[89]

Expressing agreement with the Vatican's position, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention stated that many Baptists would regard New Age ideas as contrary to Christian tradition and doctrine.[90]

Integral theory

The author Ken Wilber posits that most New Age thought falls into what he termed the pre/trans fallacy.[91] According to Wilber, human developmental psychology moves from the pre-personal, through the personal, then to the transpersonal (spiritually advanced or enlightened) level.[92] He regards 80 percent of New Age spirituality as pre-rational (pre-conventional) and as relying primarily on mythic-magical thinking; this contrasts with a post-rational (including and transcending rational) genuinely world-centric consciousness.[91][92] Despite his criticism of most New Age thought, Wilber has been categorized as New Age due to his emphasis on a transpersonal view,[93] and more recently, as a philosopher.[94]

Indigenous peoples of the Americas

Some adherents of traditional disciplines, such as the Lakota people—a tribe of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, reject "the expropriation of [their] ceremonial ways by non-Indians." They see the New Age movement as either not fully understanding, deliberately trivializing, or distorting their disciplines.[95]

They have coined the term plastic medicine men to describe individuals, from within their own communities "who are prostituting our spiritual ways for their own selfish gain, with no regard for the spiritual well-being of the people as a whole."[95] The term plastic shaman has been applied to outsiders who identify themselves as shamans, holy people, or other traditional spiritual leaders, but who have no genuine connection to the traditions or cultures they claim to represent. The academic Ward Churchill criticised the New Age movement as an instrument of cultural imperialism that is exploitative of indigenous cultures by reducing them to a commodity to be traded. In Fantasies of the Master Race, he criticises the cultural appropriation of Native American culture and symbols in not only the New Age movement, but also in art and popular culture.[96]

Goddess movement

Followers of the Goddess movement have severely criticized the New Age as fundamentally patriarchal, analytical rather than intuitive, and as supporting the status quo, particularly in its implicit gender roles. Monica Sjöö (1938–2005) pointed out that New Age "channelers" were virtually all women, but the "spirits" they purported to channel, offering guidance to humanity, were nearly all male. Sjöö was highly critical of Theosophy, the "I AM" Activity, and particularly Alice Bailey, whom she saw as promoting Nazi-like "Aryan" ideals. Sjöö's writings also condemn the New Age for its support of communication and information processing technologies which, she believes, may produce harmful low-level electromagnetic radiation.[97][98][99]

See also

Notes and references

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